While prescribing yourself fun activities to counter to feelings of depression sounds about as likely as prescribing yourself a steak dinner to best an upset stomach, doctors say that forcing yourself to do things can help a lot when you’re feeling down.
Withdrawing from responsibilities and activities you enjoy can seem like the best course of action when in the midst of the lethargy and low mood of depression, but while staying at home with the covers over your head may seem like the most sensible course of action when you feel so down, forcing yourself into motion is actually the only thing that will interrupt a negative spiral of inactivity and ever worsening mood, energy levels and guilt.
Why is staying inactive such a bad idea?
Missing Out on Pleasure
When you feel depressed you may feel like you lack the energy, motivation or desire to get up and do much at all, so when opportunities for fun activities arise – like seeing friends or family, going to the movies, paying sports etc. – you don’t feel like going or feel like you don’t have the energy to go or you can’t face people right now; and so you stay home.
By staying home you miss the opportunity to have an enjoyable experience and to feel pleasure and to get energized and become more available to future opportunities for fun and enjoyment. Instead, you stay at home and feel no joy or energy or fun, and you become just a little bit more entrenched in a negative spiral of lethargy of action and corresponding depression of mood.
Failing to Take Care of Responsibilities
When you feel depressed and lack energy and motivation it’s easy to step back from making decisions and even from taking care of regular everyday tasks at work or around the house – sometimes it’s just easier to bypass the mess in the living room or the taxes that need doing and head to bed for a nap.
Unfortunately, those responsibilities and tasks we neglect have a nasty habit of building on us, and the evidence and reminders (the growing mess in the kitchen, the bill reminders from creditors, emails from unhappy colleagues etc.) of our neglect only make us feel worse, as we feel guilt over our failures and as the prospect of digging out of the hole we’re in seems ever more difficult as the days go by.
How Getting into Action Can Help You to Start Feeling Better
There is no magic cure for depression and you can’t expect a single walk in the park to reverse such a debilitating illness, however, the more you force yourself into action the more you do to fight against the depression that pulls you down.
“We can nudge ourselves to do something… even though we feel like just sitting there instead. This temporary increase in activity helps stimulate the left frontal cortex, which in turn boosts mood and leads to a bit of reduction in depressive symptoms, which then makes it a little easier to initiate more activity, and so on. In other words, by simply engaging in activity–any activity–we can change the brain in a way that helps reverse depression.” …Dr. Stephen S. Ilardi1
It won’t happen immediately, but in time, as you incorporate more pleasure into your life and meet ever more of your responsibilities - the enjoyment, energy and satisfaction you pull from these activities can go a long way to reversing that downward spiral of depression and to restoring a more positive mental outlook.
On the following page you will find 5 meaningful ways that just getting off the couch or out of bed and doing something positive, no matter how small that activity is, helps to get you out of that negative downward spiral of depression.
Page last updated Sep 07, 2011